Archive for November 2004
Greenspan’s Legacy — The Deregulator: A Less-Visible Role For the Fed Chief: Freeing Up Markets — Greenspan Blessed Mergers And Blocked Regulation; Using the 1800s as a Model — Is Modern Finance Too Risky?
By Greg Ip
19 November 2004
The Wall Street Journal
(Copyright (c) 2004, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)
[Second of Two Articles]
WASHINGTON — As Alan Greenspan approaches his last year as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, he continues to draw praise for his most visible job: steering the economy by raising and lowering interest rates. But behind the scenes, the 78-year-old economist has had a big impact on American life in an entirely different role: pushing the government to stay out of financial markets.
Consider what happened in 2002, when Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein proposed new rules to govern how traders buy and sell contracts to deliver energy through financial instruments known as derivatives. Her move came after Enron Corp. and others helped send electricity prices soaring in California by manipulating that market. When she telephoned Mr. Greenspan for support, he declined, telling her the proposal threatened the multitrillion dollar derivatives industry, which he considers an important stabilizing force that diffuses financial risk.
Mr. Greenspan persuaded other Bush-appointed regulators to join him in a critical letter that Sen. Feinstein’s opponents wielded as a weapon on the Senate floor. The bill was narrowly defeated on a procedural motion. Sen. Feinstein reintroduced the proposal a number of times and at least twice Mr. Greenspan rallied fellow regulators to oppose it. “I believe it would have passed without his opposition,” Sen. Feinstein says.
In addition to thwarting the post-Enron impulse to regulate derivatives, Mr. Greenspan has helped remove Depression-era barriers between the banking and securities industries and has blessed mergers creating banking behemoths. He has implored regulators to keep their hands off hedge funds and other markets that are replacing banks as financiers of American business. Although the Fed is a major bank regulator, it has become a less intrusive one under Mr. Greenspan.
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For 17 years, Mr. Greenspan has deftly steered the American economy by relying on two strengths: an unparalleled grasp of the most intricate data and a willingness to break with convention when traditional economic rules stop working. In an era when economics is increasingly driven by mathematical models and politics by dogma, Mr. Greenspan rejects both.
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